Why WikiLeaks Matters

by Adam Popescu

WikiLeak’s CableGate is a platform to show the true reach of open internet and its current and future clash with government.

Why do we care? Because whether politician, journalist, or consumer, this may soon affect the way you use the internet.

On Nov. 29, Australian Julian Paul Assange’s WikiLeaks dropped CableGate, a quarter of a million confidential documents that will reveal a litany of undiscovered stories. The site characterizes this treasure trove of data as “251,287 leaked United States embassy cables, the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain. The documents will give people around the world an unprecedented insight into US Government foreign activities.”

Good, right? Maybe.

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton called the move not only an attack on the United States, but an attack on the international community.

Politically, if diplomats are scared to reveal and write their true feelings about countries or leaders, because they fear their writings being intercepted, then diplomacy suffers because important information is not making its way to the decision makers and legislators that need it.

Tim Wu’s new book The Master Switch offers a scenario depicting our current wild west internet age as a possible historical oddity. That could very well be the case, and this could be the first step towards it.

So, what’s in the cables anyway? Early reports in AlterNet reveal a lot of stuff we already know, and a lot we don’t. The real gems will be found in the coming weeks and months as we see track the fallout. Whatever happens, this is sure to be a heavy coal in the fire towards further internet legislation—and restriction. For a Cliff’s Notes version of what’s going down, feathers are getting ruffled over world powers’ true feelings toward one another: Berlusconi an aging partier. Putin a Tony Soprano. Sarkozy as the Emperor With No Clothes. It has been reported that Iranian transcripts revealed that most of the Middle East is actually against the rogue nation.

Below is an interesting exert of revelations from AlterNet:

“China’s been hacking our systems since 2002. One Wikileak cable states that the Chinese Politburo hacked into Google last year — no huge surprise there, other than the fact that they cracked the company’s sophisticated system of firewalls. But apparently China’s an old pro at this — it has allegedly been hacking into the systems of Western governments — and, of course, its own national human rights activists, including the Dalai Lama — for nearly a decade.”

The best way to move through the site, is to browse by type of document, country, or keyword. Then it’s deep into the wormhole you go. Look through cables from embassies and consulates: unclassified, confidential and secret. Whether or not you personally open and read these papers, the act of making them public will affect both politics and technology. The screenshots at the top of the post is an image of an Iranian document from the embassy, as viewed online.

So, is WikiLeaks a savior? No. In the past, WikiLeak’s document revelation in the Afghan-Iraq WarLogs, confirmed numerous war crimes committed and the realities and horrors of war that don’t often make it back home. While much-maligned, that move’s saving grace was that it revealed important material in an unpopular war (although that move was criticized for compromising agents in the field).

Detractors of CableGate ask what purpose does it serve to air the diplomatic dirty laundry at this level of minutiae? By doing so, the status quo of information protocol, security and diplomatic presence is forever going to become more guarded, controlled and stymied. Those same detractors are asking what gave WikiLeaks the right to reveal this information—a large degree filled with petty pot shots and back-room chatter. Here’s WikiLeak’s retort as espoused on

“The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in “client states”; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.

This document release reveals the contradictions between the US’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors – and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what’s going on behind the scenes.

Every American schoolchild is taught that George Washington – the country’s first President – could not tell a lie. If the administrations of his successors lived up to the same principle, today’s document flood would be a mere embarrassment. Instead, the US Government has been warning governments — even the most corrupt — around the world about the coming leaks and is bracing itself for the exposures.

The full set consists of 251,287 documents, comprising 261,276,536 words (seven times the size of “The Iraq War Logs”, the world’s previously largest classified information release).The cables cover from 28th December 1966 to 28th February 2010 and originate from 274 embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions.”

What’s going to happen, no one knows exactly. People are so curious to see the documents, the bombardment of users crashed the WikiLeaks site recently.

What we can say with certainty is depending on how the world reacts to what Mrs. Clinton calls an “attack on the international community,” new regulation may soon face us. The ball is rolling, and much like Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom, we might have to jump out of the way to prevent it from rolling over us.

—Adam Popescu